It’s the first Thursday in May and it’s hot, disorientingly and almost offensively so for a New Englander shedding her turtleneck and boots for the first time in nearly six months, but somehow the little enclave hidden in Wooster Square that Bonnie resides in is pleasant, lightly breezy, and cool. My very evident B.O. and anxiety diffuse as my body adjusts to this oasis, and as my eyes are met by a gleaming, wide-grinned Bonnie Pavone waving to me with one hand, and leading two smiling pups of caricaturesque different sizes in the other. I realize immediately that I’m going to have a fantastic afternoon.
I’m welcomed into her home, and Bonnie immediately gets to work in the kitchen. She’s cheerful and kind – just like the place she lives in the midst of this spring heat wave. Her pups play innocently at my feet. Her walls are decorated with art, pictures of her and her wife, and a knife collection I am instantly envious of. Before I know it, a cup of warm carrot and ginger soup is placed delicately in front of me. The scent of sesame oil wafts lazily into my nostrils. At this point, I begin to salivate.
“Growing up, my mom always cooked – she worked in restaurants, stuff like that. As soon as I got out of high school I started cooking; I’ve always been good at it,” she tells me, “I like cooking for people I love, and actually talking to the people that I’m cooking for and getting to know them, and exactly how they like their food.”
Her ability to connect through food is clear – somehow, her soup makes me feel simultaneously comforted and invigorated, and I’m completely at ease as she chats with me over the oven. Next, she brings out a classic wedge salad topped with crispy baked bacon, thinly shaved carrots and red onions, and a homemade blue cheese dressing. I wonder if she’s mined my Instagram feed or my brain for my favorite spring dishes, or if she’s just that creepily intuitive.
“I grew up in a really big family, so cooking has always been a ‘thing.’ Just, cooking for seven or eight people every night and trying to make it good, something that they’re gonna want to eat. That’s a really great feeling and I caught it early. I’ve wanted to be a chef ever since I was seven years old.”
Her technique, however, reveals training that is much more meticulous than that of any home cook. Bonnie’s attention to precision comes from several years of diverse culinary experience, beginning in the eastern Connecticut kitchens and catering company of the Mystic Aquarium and an adjacent nursing rehabilitation facility before taking respective stints at the Hard Rock Café at Foxwoods, and then legendary hungover post-casino breakfasts the Shack and the Broken Yolk. After moving to Seattle and back, she settled in New Haven and made her mark on foodie big shots Zinc and Caseus. Most recently, however, she’s been working in a slightly more intimate kitchen.
“I’m a private chef, I work from my home. I like the freedom of creativity that I have, and all the feedback I get from my clients,” she says as I watch her score a giant rack of lamb from a cozy pillow-padded perch. She tells me about her neighbor in her building who she cooks custom dinners for a few times a week for under $30, and delivers to his door (um, reevalute your business model Uber Eats). I make sure her number is saved correctly in my phone, because sometimes I’m just as lazy as I am hungry and she cooks seasonally based on what’s best and brightest at the farmer’s market that week.
“The farmer’s market opening for the season gets me pumped. I’m like a kid in a candy store when I’m there. I bring my huge bag, and I’m like ‘Oooh, what you got, tell me what’s looking good?’ And I’ll think about what I’m going to make for the week while I’m doing my farmer’s market shopping.”
She coats a just ripe cob of corn with a tantalizing-looking mayo mixture, and tells me about her passion for mixing and matching cuisines into one cohesive dish.
“I like to do a lot of fusion, a lot of different kind of ethnic cuisines. Mexican and Indian are two cuisines I love. I like spicy, and savory; I like a lot of layers and depth in my food.”
True to form, she begins artfully plating two half cobs of Mexican street food inspired corn with harissa marinated lamb lollipops, complete with several generous dollops of her homemade tzatziki sauce. Instantly, I’m transported to my childhood just outside of UConn, and I remember eating lamb from my grandparents’ modest sheep nursery (apparently the state considers anything upwards of four sheep a professional endeavor) alongside freshly shucked ears of corn stolen from the farm across the street. I’m also brought to the food trucks at Long Wharf, to my near-drinking of tzatziki sauce while doing social media for Freskos, and to my own apartment kitchen fresh off a Trader Joe’s haul, greedily slathering harissa onto anything I can get my hands on. This meal is eerily ‘me,’ and I’m stunned by how well Bonnie has read my palette. If you’re ever looking for a person that instinctively picks up on what you’re thinking, and what you need or want in the kitchen, Bonnie is seriously your girl.
She ends our meal with just the right amount of a vegan chocolate pot de crème, decorated with a mixed fruit leather she’s styled into the shape of a rose. I spoon the velvet-y, impossibly dairy-free cocoa cream into my mouth as she tells me about a natural field of ramps tucked alongside the first quarter of the blue trail on Sleeping Giant as we trade our favorite seasonal recipes. Her eyes light up as I tell her how excited I am to get my hands on some spring rhubarb, and I realize just how personable she is, and how much she really is meant to be a chef.
“You get to feel a little bit like a mad scientist, doing all this crazy stuff that just comes out of your head and trying to make something beautiful out of it.”
Her fruit leather flower kisses my tongue, and she’s achieved just that.
Interested in having Bonnie cook for you? Send her an email at : firstname.lastname@example.org.